For Love of Club… or Idol

In the annals of soccer history, some moments stand out not just for their sheer sporting significance, but for the sense of reverence that marks the occasion.

That will forever be the way we look back on July 21, 2023 when Lionel Messi donned an Inter Miami jersey for the first time.

This may sound hyperbolic but anyone in attendance will say the same – Messi’s first match wasn’t so much a soccer match as it was a congregation of devotees there to worship an idol.

Just walking up to DRV PNK Stadium on Friday’s hot summer night, it was very clear why everyone was there. Entire generations of families, from grandmothers to toddlers, wore some version of #10 on their backs. Some sported the blue and white of Argentina, a few donned Newell Old Boys classics, and most wore the familiar pink and black of Inter Miami.

By my unscientific calculation, at least two-thirds of the ticketholders were wearing some form of homage to Messi.

In a way, it was as if everyone was summoned by a higher power. The magnetic pull of Messi was obvious and it didn’t really matter that there was an actual soccer match taking place. Hell, if you didn’t know any better, you would think it was a solo act instead of a team sport.

As soon as the whistle started, the “Messi Messi” chants rained down from all over the stadium.

Messi didn’t even start the match but it was clear that the first 53 minutes were just an appetizer for the main course. The buzz was already high, but everyone knew what was about to happen and they were saving up their emotions for the second half of the match.

When Messi finally subbed in, the energy within the stadium shifted.

Every single time the ball touched Messi’s feet, everyone stood up. It didn’t matter if you were in the supporter section or the nosebleeds, every single person rose to their feet. Over and over again. Every Messi touch resulted in a collective “ohhhhh” or “ahhhhh” from the crowd and at one point I had to pause to take in the weight of the moment.

Normally, I visit teams and meet with supporters to hear about the importance of the club. When a club wins, the supporters go wild. When a club loses, supporters console one another.

It’s simple but it’s beautiful.

This was different.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings saying this, but very few people in the stadium cared about the team or the back-and-forth of the match that was played on the field that summer night. Thousands upon thousands of people paid a pretty penny just to bear witness to the once-in-a-generation talent. It didn’t matter if Inter Miami won or lost, it was all about #10.

Image courtesy of Inter Miami FC

And that’s something I have never experienced, nor do I think I ever will experience again at a soccer match.

Yet as much as I wanted to feel sad about one person stealing attention from the overall beauty of U.S. soccer culture and everything that the La Familia supporters collective has been building in Miami, there was something so magical about watching a whole new side of the sport.

Experiencing the energy inside DRV PNK Stadium that night was like visiting one of the wonders of the world. Everyone was just waiting for Messi to perform a miracle. And as we all now know, that’s exactly what he did.

That’s the power of Messi.

When the final whistle blew, we might as well have just watched a person walk on water.

It wasn’t just a soccer match; it was a spiritual experience, a congregation of believers who had come to witness their idol in the flesh.